Monsanto Forest Park History

Origins

The Serra de Monsanto has been inhabited since prehistoric times, as demonstrated by the numerous archaeological discoveries that have been made within the zone, in particular the archaeological digs in Monte Claros and Monte de Vila Pouca. The native forest began to be destroyed when the city of Lisboa started to expand.

The Águas Livres Aqueduct and the Recreational Estates

In the eighteenth century, the Serra de Monsanto was traversed by a huge construction - the Águas Livres Aqueduct - that supplied Lisboa with water from the Belas zone. At this time, numerous recreational estates for Lisboa’s aristocracy also began to be built - in the northern part of the Serra.

Monsanto as a Defensive Outpost

In the second half of the nineteenth century, several military structures were built in the Serra de Monsanto, due to its geo-strategic importance. These were integrated within Lisboa’s defensive system, known as the Trench Defence System, which included: Monsanto Fort (now Monsanto Prison), Alto do Duque Fort, and the redoubts in Monte Claros and Monte Lunetas, which protected the capital from possible enemy attacks.

Monsanto Forest Park

Intended to serve as the City’s "green lung" and as a leisure zone for the local population, the Park provides a counterpoint to the Jamor Valley (which was reforested in the same period), where numerous sports facilities have been built.

Defining the territorial plan for the City of Lisboa, via the GROER plan, a project was implemented for the City’s Forest Park by the Architect Keil do Amaral, which began in the 1940s but was never fully implemented.

The spaces which were left free for the planned facilities and infrastructures were eventually occupied by the installations of the Portuguese Air Force and other institutions.

Reforestation

At the end of the 1930s, the Serra de Monsanto looked very different – primarily constituted by uncultivated land, sprinkled by numerous windmills and stone quarries.

Lisboa Municipal Council oversaw the reforestation of the Serra de Monsanto. This was a long and arduous process, inclusively because of the lack of diversity of the existing plants in the nurseries at the time and the poverty of the soils.

The Dynamics of the Park's Borders

Installation of Monsanto Forest Park was never, however, without its problems. The Park’s boundaries, although defined in the GROER Plan, were never legally established. This meant that various areas, which in the meantime had been expropriated for the Park, were urbanised by the Municipal Council (e.g. the neighbourhoods of Caramão da Ajuda and Boavista and the expansion of Caselas).

At the same time, various private lands within the Park were never expropriated (e.g. the Quinta do St.º António and Quinta do S. José estates, the Rajá factory and various other smallholdings). In other words, the dynamic imposed by the engineer Duarte Pacheco gradually ran out of steam and the process finally ground to a halt.

A new phase then began, in the opposite direction, due to the encroachment of urbanisations within the Park. This phase reached its zenith in 1970 with the publication of a Decree-Law (1) that broadened the concept of "public use" of the park, and permitted the installation of educational, informational and public utility infrastructures.

As a result, in the space of only 3 years, the installation of buildings was approved for various school units, for the public television and radio broadcasting companies (RTP and RDP), the Prison Services, Lisboa’s Western Hospital and the Automobile Club of Portugal. Many other hypotheses were also studied - such as installation of Lisboa’s Technical University and various Hospital units.

In this manner, there was an "allotment" of Monsanto Forest Park, which started to constitute a mere reserve of "urbanisable” plots of lands, available for urban expansion and construction of monuments, thus imposing a process of "tertiarisation" within the Municipality of Lisboa.

This process was interrupted in 1974, with the publication of a new Decree-Law proposed by the Architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles, which repealed the Decree-Law enacted in 1970.

Having restored the original spirit under which the park had been created, it was possible for Lisboa Municipal Council and the Directorate-General for Forestry, to finally determine a strict delimitation of the park, which occurred in May 1979.

Monsanto Today

Between 1973 and 1978, an exhaustive survey was undertaken of Monsanto Forest Park. In conjunction with various contemporary technical papers, this served as the basis for the Territorial Plans that were subsequently drawn up.

 

In 1987, the Council defined and approved priority development zones in the Park, designated Urban Parks. These zones constituted spaces that, due to their biophysical characteristics, were suitable to host built facilities and which, due to their location, could serve as poles of stimulation and reference for the Park as a whole.

 

Within this perspective, a private playground equipment was implemented in 1987, that served as the anchor of the Alto do Duque Urban Park (the now de-activated, Aquaparque).

 

In 1988, however, this management instrument was rendered redundant, due to the publication of a Decree-Law that removed 56 hectares from the perimeter of the Forest Park, for the installation of Pole 2 of Lisboa’s Technical University. This area essentially corresponded to the Alto da Ajuda Urban Park which until then had been regarded as the potential main "gateway" into Monsanto.

 

During the 1990s, the Alto da Serafina Urban Park was implemented in the North zone, which basically consisted of two different key zones: a fenced-off zone that was opened to the public in 1992 (the Alto da Serafina Recreational Park) and another open area that consisted of a large lawn and a leisure facility (the Parque do Calhau), which has been used by the general public since 1990. The Aqueduct lies between them – including a pedestrian structure that accompanies the Águas Livres Aqueduct and makes it possible to establish a direct connection between Buraca and Campolide.

 

Also in the northern zone of the Monsanto Forest Park, Monsanto Ecological Park was set up in March 1993, occupying around 50 hectares (16 of which are fenced off) and that was essentially dedicated to environmental education. Later, in March 1996, the Interpretation Centre was inaugurated, a support building for the Ecological Park, currently known as the Espaço Monsanto – which is now the main venue for the reception, information and guidance for visitors to Monsanto Forest Park.

 

In early 1999, the Woodlands of S. Domingos de Benfica were recovered, including installation of a playground, maintenance circuit, adventure playground and new signposting, and recovery of the existing facilities.

 

The Moinhos de Santana Recreational Park was also opened to the general public in 1999. Its main attraction are two rebuilt and fully operational windmills, and a playground, leisure zones, restaurant and amphitheatre. A major strategic investment was made in the early 2000s based on the Territorial Revitalization Plan of Monsanto, designed by the Forestry Division / Department of the Environment and Green Spaces. Various active recreation zones were created at this time (Parque da Pedra, In the Air and on Wheels), closure of traffic in the Alameda Keil do Amaral, enhancement of Alvito Recreational Park, creation of cycle lanes and alteration of the insalubrious image that was previously associated to the Park, thus attracting over a million people to this unique space every year.